The Christmas Look

Having spent the previous three days watching every Christmas movie that television offers, I am becoming something of an expert on Christmas films. In particular, I’m becoming an expert on bad cable Christmas movies.

It becomes clear very quickly that these movies are formulaic. The protagonist is often an overworked professional who has lost touch with their roots, an optimistic, yet single and perhaps lonely young woman, or royalty. Any number of plot points can befall them. Sometimes they’ll need to go undercover to fulfill a Christmassy goal and other times they might need to save a local landmark or mom and pop shop in a small country town.

Though the variables are many, one thing that happens in all of these Christmas (and all Christmas movies, for that matter) is that the main character gives The Christmas Look. I think you know what I mean. From George Bailey to Clark Griswold to the Prince of Snow Falls (ugh). Everyone gives The Christmas Look at some point.

Below is a story called The Christmas Look and is about one dude’s Christmas wishes during one particular holiday season. This story is in my most e-book recent collection of stories Christmitzvah and Other Stories of Holiday Angst. So if you like it, please feel free to follow the link on my homepage and buy a copy on Amazon for $2.99. It’s also available on Smashwords and Lulu. If you don’t like it, well I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy holidays anyway. Jerk.

The Christmas Look

On Christmas Eve my family follows a very routine routine. In the morning we visit a place called Peddler’s Village for shopping and breakfast, then we go to my grandmother’s house. There, we feast, drink, talk to family, or, in actuality, we feast, drink because of family, and talk about other family. Then we go to a party of some old family friends. Certainly there have been some variations in this schedule at times, but this is how it usually goes. It’s all very Christmassy, like something you’d expect to see in a heartwarming Christmas movie. The feel good Christmas flick depicts many of these holiday routines.

The evening before this Christmas Eve, my sister and I held something of a makeshift holiday movie festival in our parents’ living room. We wrapped gifts, drank wine, and ran these movies in the background. Each time one ended, we went back to Lord Netflix and started another. It’s not hard to see that Christmas movies are largely the same. The way action movies and romantic comedies follow a set scheme, so do Christmas movies. We watched Christmas movies about family, about how giving is better than getting, about how it’s Christmas and someone is really, really sad, but would end up really, really happy, about how love blooms at Christmas, about how the true meaning of Christmas is [enter abstract noun, e.g. love, faith, generosity here], about how Christmas led to salvation, dogs make Christmas better because, I gathered, they are angels, and, depending on the religious-political tone of the movie you’ve stumbled upon, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. So we watched young actress after young actor after grizzled old wretch engage in some holiday hijinkery until they gave the Christmas Look and then become very happy. It made us very sentimental and nostalgic for something that we had only experienced vicariously in the movies.

On Christmas Eve, my dad and I piled into his truck to fulfill the first stop of our routine. We drove to Peddler’s Village, a charming maze of shops about forty five minutes from my parents’ house in Bucks County. Peddler’s Village is set up to resemble exactly what its name suggests. That is, a quaint collection of rustic peddlers’ shops connected by brick paths and meandering walkways. The bare trees had been decorated with bulbs since late September, thus adding to the ambience. It was easy to imagine happy white families peering into window shops at homemade sweaters while they munched on artisan bread. The reality is that Peddler’s Village is an outdoor shopping mall development, but they do a great cover job. In June or August, I’d bemoan the clashing incongruence, but at Christmas, just like holiday movies, I bought into it completely.

Even though I came here most Christmas Eves, I was once again reminded that most of the shops at Peddler’s Village pitched their wares at people who were not me. I wondered when home décor that would only make a house look older became so in demand. More disturbing than the price for what appeared to be weathered signs and children’s camp crafts, was their efficacy at evoking nostalgia. Factory faded signs in shop windows made me long for the Cape May seashore in summer 1976, which was a time I couldn’t possibly remember. Metal grates bent into the words “Welcome” and “Home Sweet Home” caused me to yearn for the comfort of a large, cozy country home even though I was staying in a large, cozy country home. I strolled into a shop called Celtic Rose, whose line of knit Irish sweaters had probably come from sheep that had grown up down the street from me, but which cost more than I made in a typical month. A German shop sold clocks, the cumulative aroma coming from a place called The Candle Ltd. made a woman near me almost faint, and the Artisan’s Gallery had what appeared to be about twelve paintings for sale.

My dad has bad knees and so sports a distinctive shuffle, in which his entire body works to build momentum to propel his body forward. He often does so between first and second gears, and with spots of neutral. So when he set himself into third gear and exploded down the path in a determined lope, arms and legs akimbo, I knew there was a place to get sweets nearby. Before I saw the sign for the Lucky Cupcake Bakery, he was shooting out an explanation.

“Dame, you go ahead. I’ll meet you at the bakery.”

“Sure, I’ll be in…”

But he was gone. He would be occupied in ecstatic joy for a good while. More than a simple enthusiast, my dad’s sweet tooth is not only family lore, but well known among his patients and friends. He knows everything about every sweet ever made. If ever anyone is bludgeoned to death with a bearclaw he could be called upon to give expert council. I decided to give him a few minutes to take it all in, so I hit a game shop called JaZams, where I looked for a jigsaw puzzle for my brother, knowing all the while that if my brother ever caught wind of the name of this shop, he’d develop a comedy act upon it that would never end. I like this shop, of course it’s no JaZams! Need to go to JaSam’s Club today for the turkey? GaZeez, I’m JaZorry. It would not end until I was in a medium security prison. My hypothetical consternation was nonetheless thwarted when I looked at the price tag on a jigsaw puzzle and then Mission Impossible tiptoed towards the door with extreme caution. By the time I reached my dad at the bakery, he was next in line, and he didn’t look happy.

“What’s wrong, Dad?”

He shook his head, as if it was all too horrible to talk about. Then he muttered something, the words “fuck” and “shit” and “stupid” the only ones I could make out. I asked him to clarify.

“No normal cinnamon rolls,” he said with a disgusted head shake. The woman in front of us left and we were faced with a young blonde girl whose ponytail poked out of the back archway of her cap.

“Good morning and Merry Christmas,” she said. “Happy holidays,” she added, you know, just in case.

“Do you have any normal cinnamon rolls?” my dad asked, phonetically italicizing normal.


“With no raisins. Normal means with no raisins,” he said, as though they should have taught her this at bakery cashier school.

“Oh,” She peered beneath at the trays and then spoke with another girl. Then she turned back to us. “I’m sorry. We only have them with raisins.”

“You’re not making anymore?”

“No, I’m afraid not. It’s too late, we stop baking for the morning at ten.”

My dad heaved out a sigh. “So, no normal cinnamon rolls left, but there are fifty with raisins left,” he said. “Now what does that make you think?”

She squinted before I patted him on the shoulder and led him to a plastic chair near the door. I negotiated with the girl. “Just how many raisins are in that one?” I asked. She shot me a look that said, I’m at work on Christmas Eve, how about you have yourself a Merry Little go Fuck Yourself?

“Just get butter cake!” my dad shouted sadly into his mocha. The girl nodded and pulled the pan out of the case.

“I gave him an extra big piece,” she whispered as she handed me the bag.

“You are a good person,” I said.

“My mother also hates raisins,” she said.

I nodded solemnly.

More than doing things, my dad enjoys planning doing things in great detail. Each discussion involves a tweak in the plan or an overview to ensure that the plan has not changed. On every Sunday from September until the day before I flew home for Christmas, we had had an almost identical discussion about our Christmas Eve plans.

“Dame, listen, we can do Peddler’s Village, but you’ll have to give me some leeway with my knees.”

“Sure, Dad.”

“You know, it’s OK. You guys can walk and I’ll find a bench. I’ll be all right”

“I know,” I said, but whenever he said things like this I envisioned him a disregarded pensioner in a tattered cloak resting morosely on a bench while his family ran away in exuberance and exclaimed joyous things.

“I want to leave around 9:30.”


“Maybe nine.”

“Whatever you want, Dad.”

“Let’s say 9:15. Or maybe 9:10.”

“OK,” I said, inasmuch as I knew his motivation for this plan, I knew he was going to justify it.

“We have Grandmom’s at about two,” he said.

“Right.” Though I knew that “at about two” meant “at two.”

“I want to make sure I can eat at Grandmom’s.”

“I know, Dad.”

Though the previous conversation is highly representative of most of our conversations, holiday themed or otherwise, this Christmas, I understood his motivation for such a detailed plan. Due to some health problems that had erupted in early fall, my dad had been forced to undertake a healthier diet. There is no other human for whom the statement “healthy diet” is more ominous. It meant he couldn’t eat what he wanted. Death row inmates, he commented, are granted a last meal of whatever they want, but he was not. Those guys had killed people; what had he done to deserve this? The whole thing was unfair.

For my dad, eating was a binary system. If it was good for him, he did not like it. These things included chicken, vegetables, lean meats, fish, fruit, and bread that was brown or had nuts in it. On the other side of this field were unhealthy things, i.e. things he loved. This list is more vast and specific, including pumpkin pie, pizza, potatoes, bread that was made from potatoes, slices of meat that fit on bread above or below slices of cheese, and most cakes. At the top of that list was cinnamon rolls with no raisins.

While he had successfully cut the unhealthy items out of his diet, he had not taken happily to the other side of the gastronomical field. Our Sunday night conversations had historically included a food section. “Have you been out to eat recently?” he’d ask. Or “Have you eaten yet? What are you going to have for dinner?” Then he would regale me with stories of his recent culinary conquests. He’d relate each detail about a trip to our favorite Italian restaurant or a treat that one of his patients had brought in for him. By the end of the conversation we were both ready to order a pizza or sit down in front of a pint of ice cream with a spoon. But since he was forced to rein in his diet, the food chat was gone. He rarely touched on the “Have you eaten?” question for fear that he’d hear about something delicious and enviable. And since the food he was eating was nothing exciting, just chicken and vegetables and an occasional splurge on lowfat yogurt, he never talked about his meals either.

It became clear that on Christmas, he was going to cheat on his diet like a Kennedy. So when September came and my dad began talking about Christmas, I noticed a twinkle in his voice that hadn’t been there in a while. I finally identified it as excitement. There was food to look forward to, and most importantly, it wouldn’t cripple him with guilt.

Wait, what about Thanksgiving? you’re probably asking, and good question. While Thanksgiving is a day built upon focusing on gluttony to avoid thinking about genocide, in my family, Christmas is a two day affair of feasting that was worthy of folk songs. At my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve we ate homemade ravioli and meatballs, sausage and peppers, a ham, several salads that were “salad” only in name and were actually unhealthier than a cheeseburger. Then my grandmother lays out a dessert table that would instantly give diabetes to the city of Cleveland: mousse, pie, ice cream, homemade cakes, and cookies. Afterwards we visit some old neighbors for another party that included snacks and a roast, drinks, and wine. There’s a table dedicated to salty things and another one dedicated to sweet things. On Christmas Day my Uncle sheds his Clark Kent cover of mild-mannered pediadontist to reveal the gourmet chef superhero that secretly resides beneath. He normally makes us eggplant parmesan, au gratin potatoes, and a filet mignon log. This comes after three hours of finger foods so delectable that you have to actively stop yourself from eating to save room for the main course. The year’s treats, Thanksgiving included, have nothing on Christmas in our family’s customs. And on December 24th and 25th my dad was going to eat whatever he wanted.

Unfortunately, it’s those most desired plans that seem to slip through our fingers. This year my uncle and aunt were going to California to visit my cousin, so there would be no au gratin potatoes, no filet mignon log, no delectable finger foods. Our family friends were also visiting family during the day so their party would be low key. These things were absolutely understandable, but they chipped away at my dad’s enthusiasm for a day he’d been looking forward to since September.

After the bakery, we got in the truck and I asked him if he wanted to stop for something on the way home. He shook his head. This part of the fantasy had been rendered unfulfilled; visiting a B list bakery would be an impotent gesture. Besides, it was drawing too close to our visit to Grandmom’s, which was the day’s main attraction. If he threw down a few baked goods on the way home, his appetite might be ruined and throw the whole plan into gastronomical disarray. We went home and my mother met us at the door.

“I got you something,” she said, standing in the doorway.

“What?” he asked.

“Kitchen table. Don’t touch it,” she said.

A glint in the old man’s eye shone for a second that resembled hope. He made a wise crack, thus confirming that assessment.

“Ah, you’ve been saying that to me for years.”

My mom shook her head and stepped aside. Behind her, the living room had apparently been hit by a Christmas cyclone. There was not an inch of visible floor, only boxes, bags, and enough wrapping paper to lose a flock of ducks in. While my dad switched gears towards the kitchen, I made my way through the Christmas debris in the living room to the pass-through window. I folded back one of the shutters. The kitchen was also a mess of errant pans and teetering totems of pots and bowls. On the table, there was a white box with a large square window in the top. I instantly knew that it was cake.

My father’s steps finally ceased and his body came into view as he looked down over the box. His face brightened.

“Hey!” he said.

“For,” my mother enunciated, “tomorrow.”


She nodded.

“Oh man!”

“For,” she said, “tomorrow.”

“Fine! Fine! Geez.” He stuck out his tongue. He went up the steps in second gear, rubbing his hands together. “Hey Dame, I’m going to check out some games to bet on for later. Want to come up?”


“No, he doesn’t,” my mom said. And I knew I was about to be pressed into servitude.


My dad never paused, momentum being extra necessary when going upstairs. But I did hear him shoot out a giggle and say, “Have fun. Haha.”

“What kind of cake is it?” I asked.

“Pumpkin pie.”

“Ooh. Well, you are a godsend. He couldn’t get his cinnamon rolls.”



“What a baby,” she said. She then handed me a list of a dozen minor tasks scratched onto the back of a market receipt in the cursive of a sociopath. “I want you to do a few things for me,” she said.

My brother burst through the door which led to my dad’s dental office. He was in Flyers pajamas and had no doubt been enjoying the heat, which warmed the dental office to a toasty temperature, but didn’t do us the favor of leaking into the drafty house. He heard the interaction and attempted to scoot up the steps, pausing the briefest second to shout “Sucker!”

“Stop!” my mother shouted. “Get your ass down here, Flyers boy.”

We could hear my brother’s feet deliberating as the little boy inside of him argued with the thirty year old body. Ultimately, he stopped, and poked his nose around the wall. “Yes?”

“You help.”

He looked at me. “I got cocky.”

“You think?”

We began cleaning the Christmas disaster area in the living room. I told him about Raisingate. He listened intently and then said, “What a baby, but that sucks.” He began the daunting job of stuffing the entire room’s discards into trash bags. He looked up at me. “But seriously, no normal cinnamon rolls? That’s pretty weak.”

“Yeah. Mom got him a pumpkin pie.”

“From where?”


“Uh oh.” He woggled his hand in the air like an airplane dipping its wings.


“Hit or miss.”

“Aw crap.”

“Did you see my gift for Dad?”

“Where would I have seen it?”

“In the fridge.”

“Oh yeah.” That explained a lot. My mother outfits her fridge with so many items and cans and bottles and boxes that negotiating it becomes something like a game of Operation with breakable booby traps. At the holidays it’s only worse. In the last two days, I’d noticed that the bottom shelf consisted of one wrapped rhomboid structure. It was in the shape of a miniature tool chest. “What is it?”

“Can’t tell you, dude.”

“OK, then why….”

“I got you the same thing. But you’re both gonna like it. A lot.”

My brother is an aggressively thoughtful gift giver. In the past few years, I’d received a jug of hot sauce, Mark Twain’s autobiography, a comprehensive cookbook, and a tool chest. What his gifts lack in practicality for a guy who has to get on an airplane and go through customs to get home, they more than make up for in his genuine interest in coming up with a gift that I’d use and love. The previous Christmas, he upgraded this thoughtfulness to include physical effort, and his gifts became homemade. Thus I was the recipient of Handsome Chris’ Vanilla Extract, a small brown bottle which featured his mustached face on the label.

My brother launched into a melodrama involving several characters at the factory where he is shipping manager. His stories are rather wordy or, as you are 3,147 words into this story, sort of like mine. I paid half attention to him and half to the Christmas movie on the television.

The woman in this Christmas movie was leaving work at her big ad agency in New York City. Her boss was telling her not to come in the next day, which was Christmas Eve. He ordered her to go home and enjoy Christmas with her family instead. She was hurt by this, and the viewer understood that she had alienated her family in lieu of pursuing a career in the big ad agency in the big city. She stepped onto the street bustling with holiday shoppers and revelers. There were all the makings of a holiday atmosphere: a quartet singing; a Red Cross Santa ringing his bell; a painfully festive mood. She zeroed in on a family making their way down the street in yuletide ecstasy. This was the moment in the movie that it dawned on her that she was wasting her life. The scene cut to her walking into her modern, lifeless flat. Who the hell has neon in their kitchen? She was depressed.

I knew I wouldn’t have time today to watch the rest of the movie, but I knew how it would go on and end. The woman no doubt came from a big family who almost certainly lived in a small town. But she’d found her way to the big city, prioritized money and career above happiness and family, and had lost her way. Something was going to happen in the next few minutes which found our lost sheep back home. She’d go to the charming little town she’s from, and be brought back into the loving – if eccentric – embrace of her family. At some point she’d discover the true meaning of Christmas and, by proxy, life. As the viewer, I knew exactly when she’d figure this all out because she’d give The Christmas Look.

The Christmas Look is the look that main characters in Christmas movies give whenever the Christmas magic has been worked on them. Just imagine the look on Ebenezer Scrooge’s face when he realizes that he’d been saved and was allowed redemption. Imagine the look on George Bailey’s face when he realized that he was alive again and that any person with friends is rich. Imagine the look on Clark Griswold’s face at the end of Christmas Vacation when he understood that no matter how gangrened fucked his family Christmas had been, it was still a big family Christmas, which meant that he had somehow won. The character in this one hadn’t given her Christmas look yet, but if she didn’t by the end of the movie, I’d sell you one of my kidneys.

At my grandmother’s later on, I experienced a feeling of true comfort, the way you might cuddling in bed with your childhood blankie. My aunts and uncles shouted everything, having long believed that speaking is for those who don’t want to be heard. My Aunt left lipstick marks on my cheeks, both, just for consistency. This was repeated as her blood alcohol level increased. She pointed to her room and said “Dame, there are five hundred books in there, you take what you want.” She meant it too. She is a great lover of books, a woman whose nightmare is to die before she has a chance to read everything she wants to read. She laughed at a cackle, but it was nothing compared to her sister’s, whose was explosive. She considered each comment for seconds before deeming it laugh worthy. My uncle is a rather shy environmental scientist, who saves up his raucous jokes and social commentary for the biannual meetings with his family.

The old men (dad included) fell asleep on comfortable chairs in front of a football game. My mother, aunts, and sisters chatted in the steamy kitchen. Everyone snuck out to smoke on the back porch they’d been sneaking out to smoke on for years. At the center of it all was my grandmother, ninety-two years old, shaky, but alert and giving out mild-voiced orders that wouldn’t dare be ignored. My brother handed her his Christmas gift and we all laughed when she produced a framed picture of him in a mustache staring off into the distance. He was doing so in an inspired manner a senator or an evangelical preacher might look on the cover of their post-scandal biography.

“That better not be what me and dad are getting,” I said.

“This is only for Grandmom.”

As aggressively thoughtful as my brother is with his gifts, he’s almost as aggressively aware of that fact. He motioned his head to a framed picture on the wall of all the grandkids and a switch of the quilts my grandmother had knitted for each of us in our early childhood. It had been a gift for my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday, which my brother had organized and put together.

“Grandmom says that’s the best gift she ever got in her whole life,” he said.

Reaching behind him to the bookshelf, I played my only ace in the hole. I grasped the spine of a novel I’d published four years before. It had sold about forty copies, two of which were in this house. I opened it to the dedication page.

“I dedicated a novel to her. Beat that, sucker.”

“I knew you were going to say that. Dick.”

The food was, as always, insurmountable. After several reconnaissance missions to the kitchen, I ensured my presence when the ravioli and meatballs came out. Though I couldn’t have finished the meatballs in a week and if the zombie apocalypse had fallen upon Mayfair, Pennsylvania that night, the ravioli would have kept us going until the army could come in. But I still made sure I was among the first. I threw tender elbows of sharp familial love to a cousin who tried to sneak in front of me, and I sweetly told my ninety-two year old grandmom, my single favorite person in the world, that I would throw her wrinkly ass out the window if she didn’t hand me that spoon post haste. I scurried into the living room where I leaned a fork against one of my meatballs and watched in pornographic ecstasy as it sunk through its tenderness. My dad was roused to eat, and he revved his gears into the kitchen. If the pope had been at the house that night, he’d have canonized my grandmother and named her his personal chef.

It was a magnificent evening. Everyone was themselves and I felt the comfort of being accepted, of fitting in. No matter my job, where I lived, or my political affiliation, I knew, as did we all, that the people around me were, and will always be, my tribe. And if this particular Christmas story was about me, somewhere in this evening of comfort and joy you would have seen me give The Christmas look. There is no doubt in my mind that I gave it at some point. But this story’s not about me, it’s about a dude who wanted nothing more than to enjoy food on Christmas.

When we got home from our friends’ house later that night my dad and I arranged the presents under the tree and throughout the living room. The room was Christmas itself, and every symbol of the holiday was present to watch us work: Rudolf, Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, Jesus and his entire manger gang. Due to the influence of my nephew and niece, this also included Yoda in a Santa hat, as well as what Fred described as a “Christmas Tyrannosaurus Rex” who stood in the corner with a wreath around his neck and arms too useless to do anything about it. As we arranged the presents, I felt included in a little piece of family magic. My dad had done this each Christmas Eve for more than half his life, and he gave me minor directions as we sorted the presents.

“Set this one askew, it makes it looks like more. Try to line these up along the couch edge, so they look more Chistmassy. You know what I mean?”

“Whatever happened to your plan of not buying many gifts?”

“Meh,” he said.

The holiday season in my family is initiated by a speech my dad has been giving since I was ten. It went like this: “Now, listen, this year, I don’t want you to be disappointed. But I am not going to get a lot of gifts, OK? I just don’t want to do much shopping this year. I need to take it easy this year, OK? So just don’t be disappointed. OK?”

After two years of this speech, it became clear that he was unable to go through with this plan. Christmas turns my dad into a ten year old boy, and he buys gifts with the abandon of one. I have lost count of how many times I’ve opened a gift to hear him say, “I thought it was neat,” or “isn’t that pretty cool?” He simply loves to give gifts to friends and family.

I looked with horror upon a rectangular box which was undoubtedly a shirt or a sweater and had my dad’s writing on the label. My dad, in a family meeting two decades earlier, had been banned forever from buying clothing for us. While his excitement and thoughts were always genuine, his taste in clothing was also that of a ten year old boy. My brother recalls with shudders the time he opened a pair of shoes that had both a Velcro strap and tassels. I once opened a shirt covered in vintage airplanes, including a B-52 across the entire back. The shirt had been short-sleeved, but the sleeves came down to my elbows. I put the box on my pile and prayed to a god I did not believe in that he’d asked one of my sisters for help. Still, I foresaw a January of wearing a sweater covered in dogs or a hat with earflaps.

“So?” I asked. “How was your Christmas Eve feast?”


“Uh oh.”

“I ate too many ravioli at Grandmom’s and wasn’t hungry for the rest of the night.”

“How about at the Schorpp’s?”

“I was too tired.”

The dude had put himself into a carbohydrate coma. It was an age old holiday cautionary tale. An older guy has a couple of drinks and eats a big meal in a warm room. He sits in a comfy chair with sports on the television. It’s so comfort-inducing that I’m dozing off as I write this. Additionally, his tolerance for huge meals had surely dropped after a few months of decreased performance. His disappointment was palpable; I felt bad.

“Want to watch the last game?” he asked.

“How much you got on it?”

“Twenty bucks.”

“Sure. I’ll watch for a bit.”

We watched in his room. I sat in an armchair next to the bed. We were both tired, our conversation was labored. We tried to do a list, but we were too tired to make it interesting and gave up after thinking of only three Gene Hackman movies in which he didn’t kill anyone.

“I’m heading to bed. See you in the morning. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

I lie in bed reading. I suppose that I am always trying to hold on to Christmas Eve as long as I can. It’s a carryover from when I was a kid and the entire world seemed to crash down on me at about 2 p.m. on December 25th. Seeing a Christmas movie in January was a cruel mockery, a Christmas tree was a reminder of better times. Now in bed I wasn’t trying to hold on to the gifts, but rather the time with my family. Christmas Day was the buoy in the middle of my visit, something to look forward to. From tomorrow afternoon, the only thing to look forward to was my flight back to Prague. I fell asleep with my book on my face.

Christmas morning I heard my mother moving around and hoped she’d let me sleep a little longer. There was a bit of Christmas magic in the air and despite a gin hangover that bore into my temples, I had a happy Christmas feeling. My sisters were with their families, so it was only my brother, mother, father, and I heading down the stairs around 8:30. I made coffee while my mom and brother turned on the lights on the tree and opened the blinds. It was a nice morning, cold, but bright. My mom put on Christmas music in the living room. My dad was at the kitchen table and it only occurred to me what he was doing when I saw him there.

“You want coffee?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He tore open the box and cut an uneven wedge of pumpkin pie with a large knife meant for meat. After a bite his face scrunched up and he dropped the piece on a plate in front of him.

“How is it?”

He shook his head. “Not good.”

When we wandered into the living room my mom asked about the pie, but he only shook his head. She and I exchanged a quick look of disappointment for him. We began opening gifts. Ah well, I figured, sometimes you get to have the Christmas look and sometimes you don’t. We handed out gifts and I opened the rectangular box to produce a mock turtleneck in a paisley-checkered blend pattern. The rest of it was purple. Chris mocked me until he opened its replica, but in turquoise. We now wear them to parties that we visit together.

I handed my dad the present I’d gotten him in Charles de Gaulle Airport on the way home, a box of petit fours.

“Hey!” he said. “Thank you!

“You want to eat them now?” I asked.

“Maybe in a bit.”

My mother made a ruckus banging pots and pans in the kitchen. She slammed the oven door closed. We knew we were getting a huge breakfast, so these sounds were deliciously anticipatory. Before we could move on to another round of gift giving, she came in with a plateful of cinnamon rolls. The glaze was dripping off the sides, the butter pooled on the plate.

“Merry Christmas, Greg!”

He opened his mouth. “Are they…”

“Yes. They’re normal. Normal. OK, not a fucking raisin in sight!” She plopped them down on the table in front of him, and he moved my French treats to the side to make space. My brother had snuck off to the kitchen and came back with the miniature tool chest he’d left in the fridge for three days.

“Hey. Have this with them.”

My dad opened the gift to produce a short, rounded corked jug of bright orangey yellow liquid with an evil scientist feel to it.

“What the hell is that?”

“Homemade limoncello.”

“You gotta be kidding me!”

You don’t have to drive today, we’ve got nowhere to go. Drinking in the morning is OK on Christmas.”

It sounded reasonable to me, so I got shot glasses and we all, even my mom, had shots of limoncello so strong it hit us like double bourbons. We cranked up the music and my brother and I tried on our horrible shirts, which became less horrible with each moment. My dad ate cinnamon rolls (with no raisins) and sipped his single favorite liqueur on Earth. My mom passed us breakfast through the window and we ate and drank and didn’t worry about the next day, no matter what it would bring. And at some point on this Christmas morning, my dad gave the Christmas Look. Sometimes Christmas means knowing you’re with your tribe, sometimes it means giving and not getting, and sometimes it means booze in the morning and cinnamon rolls with no raisins.




  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)